Swainsboro City Council and Mayor Greg Bennett convened for their April meeting on Monday night, and the group was able to make headway on some city business despite tabling a few items.
First and foremost, the collective sent the theatre project out for bid.
This is significant news in that Swainsboro’s elected officials, both the previous administration and the current administration alike, have been working on this project for years.
Citizens may remember the current administration halting the theatre renovation earlier this year until a budget could be created and bids could be obtained.
Mayor Bennett, during Monday’s meeting, led this discussion.
He stated the city’s architect had finished his theatre involvement, therefore the project could move on to the bid phase.
Ultimately, councilperson Johnny Ray Stafford made a motion to put it out to bid as discussed. He stated this project had been discussed for four months in the short-term alone and urged the council to take action, now the time was right.
Councilperson Julian Sconyers provided the second, and the vote was 4–2 with council members John E. Parker and Bobbie Collins opposing.
Mayor Bennett stated during this conversation the County of Emanuel is prepared to help with renovation costs for the theatre project—but only when the City of Swainsboro can provide a definitive price first.
This discussion about the theatre project led council to consider a like project waiting in the wings, the Gumlog Gym renovation.
Parker questioned whether or not due diligence had been completed for the gym project, and Mayor Bennett expressed that it had not; specifically, questions remain about the gym’s safety codes.
No action was taken in regard to the gym project. However, mayor and council did entertain a discussion about funding sources for both of these undertakings. The group discussed briefly SPLOST and ARPA funds; when discussing the latter, the group noted an impending Monday deadline.
Fortunately, the American Rescue Plan Act does not require the allocated money to be spent by Monday. Instead, cities on the receiving end of these federal funds, like Swainsboro, only have to nail down the projects these dollars will pay for and attach amounts to those projects.
Council also gave the floor to public speaker Jo Bynes, the man in charge of heading up a veteran-based recycling operation using a city building. He was not present for the meeting, however, thus Mayor Bennett moved on with the evening’s agenda.
Mayor and council approved two game room applications. The purpose of these applications at this point is for advertisement only and will appear in the local newspapers over the next two weeks. One went to Mehoshi May doing business as Clay D’s Place at the old Bird’s Sports Lounge location while the other went to Dana Williams doing business as Dana’s Monogramming & More, located inside a former pawn shop on North Coleman Street. Although handled as separate pieces of action, the eventual votes were unanimous.
Mayor Bennett then suggested three names to serve on the city’s Ethics Committee: attorney Bill McWhorter, Carol Canady, and Ed Daniels.
At this point in the meeting, Collins spoke up and cited the city’s charter, pointing out that the Ethics Committee is to be made up of mayor and council. She then asked those sitting around the table if they had been asked to serve on this committee, and no one indicated they had. Thus, the matter of naming individuals to the Ethics Committee was tabled and will be re-addressed next month.
Council unanimously voted to send a specific list of vehicles and equipment from the maintenance shop to surplus. These pieces will go to Lane Brothers, and the vote to authorize the surplus came without opposition.
Next, Mayor Bennett led council in a discussion about an outside company coming in and reviewing the city’s current pay system for employees. This effort, he said, had been ongoing for about three months. The City of Swainsboro had contacted the state for help with this, and the state, Mayor Bennett explained, was “not forthcoming” with help. Therefore, a city clerk had been tasked with finding an outside company (whose benefit would be an unbiased opinion) to come in and do the job.
The clerk has since found a company, and its rate for this job came in at $20,000.
Hearing this, Parker questioned where the funds to pay for this would come from. Mayor Bennett proposed amending the budget to utilize his unused mayor’s salary to pay for it. He went on the record and stressed that he felt it was time to get a “fair wage” implemented across the board at the city level.
The clerk then spoke up, stating the company had offered to, for the same rate, evaluate city council’s pay as well.
Ultimately, councilperson DJ Davis motioned to get the assessment underway using the mayor’s salary to fund it. Stafford seconded, and the vote was 4–2 with Collins and Parker opposing.
This process will see the outside company come in and interview each employee. The goal is for this “in-depth” task to be completed by July 15.
In other news:
• Council unanimously voted to accept a low bid from Reeves Construction for an airport project. This project sees the city pay 5 percent while the county pays half of the city’s portion.
• Council tabled a matter related to the town’s inert landfill. Currently, Swainsboro is flagged by the Environmental Protection Division for lacking to maintain the natural waste (like limbs and leaves) there. Mayor Bennett suggested revisiting this item in two weeks when the city could compare the cost of new equipment that would save in the long run versus paying the proposed $70,000 to rid three of the largest piles at the landfill. Council had no opposition to this suggestion.
• Council heard from Collins, who revisited an old issue regarding city council’s pay, including health insurance benefits. She expressed a desire to set on the next meeting’s agenda an item that would allow for discussion of the possibility of “maintaining pay for council members at their current rate,” “to reimburse council members for any reductions made,” and “to consider the question of reimbursement for insurance premiums.”
She put this into the form of a motion, and Parker seconded. Council passed this motion.
• Finally, council discussed conflict of interest guidelines related to the FY2022 CDBG project. Councilperson Greg Quarterman currently lives in this district and would, for the sake of a potential conflict of interest, need to refrain from voting on anything related to this matter, according to Mayor Bennett and City Administrator Melissa Kirby.
• As an extension of the CDBG discussion, council talked at length about the issues plaguing Robin Road. Kirby stated no file exists for Robin Road, and a representative from Clearwater Solutions came forward, providing background about the matter.
According to the Clearwater representative, the company drained a ditch in the area when it first took on Swainsboro as a service area. Since then, no reports have been filed. Further, any previous reports logged with Jacobs, the city’s prior water and wastewater service, are not available as Jacobs took its files and management system upon its exodus.
• Council also entertained an executive session. Upon returning to open session, the group voted to halt a contract for work on the theatre signed by the town’s former mayor before his leaving office.
Council will next meet in two weeks. Citizens are always welcome.